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Gerson’s Sharia Cut on Gingrich Reveals GOP Rift

[1]If there is any better example of the Republican establishment’s dismay at Newt Gingrich’s surge in the presidential primary polls, I’d like to see it. Michael Gerson, the evangelical Christian and The Washington Post’s Republican faith & politics columnist, came out swinging Tuesday [2] in an unusual fusillade calling into question Newt’s intellectualism, religious tolerance and judgement. If one didn’t know Gerson to be a former top official in the Bush White House, scribe of the infamous “axis of evil” reference [3] in Bush’s 2002 State of the Union speech, reflexively dismissive of foreign policy “realism,” [4] and promoter of regime change in Iran [5], you would think he was writing, at least on Tuesday, for the Democrats. Or Ron Paul.

But he wasn’t. He was writing as one of a growing number of alarmed Republicans who I’m guessing recognize Mitt Romney as the only safe bet to face President Obama in 2012, and see that chance slipping away every time Gingrich bests Romney at a debate or ticks up in the polls. So they go for Gingrich’s biggest weaknesses with the general electorate : his tendency to indulge in “shallow  ideas” and vacillating red meat gasbaggery at the expense of anyone deemed too small or politically gainless to be represented by a Big Voice in Washington (in other words, those who cannot afford Gingrich [6] or advance his career). In this case, Muslims.

Gerson spends several paragraphs condemning Gingrich for assuming and proclaiming that Islamic Sharia law  “is inherently brutal,” “the heart of the enemy movement from which the terrorists spring forth,” and “totalitarianism.” He says for believing this, Newt actually has more in common with the “Iranian clerics, Taliban leaders and Salafists of various stripes” who believe Sharia should be interpreted that way and use it as a tool of oppression and punishment.

Wow. Though I cannot disagree with Gerson’s assessment of the former Speaker of the House (I wrote extensively about Gingrich’s Summer of 2010 crusade [7] against the coming “tyranny” that is Sharia law in America, and Islamophobia as a campaign tool [8]in that year’s congressional elections) it is amazing to hear this come from an evangelical Christian conservative. As a group, these Republicans typically flock to the same conveniently oversimplified and politically charged view of Sharia and of Muslims that Gingrich is  espousing for such Grand Effect. According to a Pew Research Poll in March 2011 [9], 60 percent of White evangelical Protestants said Islam “is more likely than other religion to encourage violence.” This, compared to 42 White mainline Protestants and 39 percent White Catholics who said the same thing.

More importantly, Gerson seems to be willing to buck the overall thrust of the base on Islam to cast aspersions on Gingrich. According to Pew, 66 percent of self-described Republican conservatives think Islam encourages violence more than any other religion, compared to 38 percent of  independents, 41 percent of moderate/liberal Republicans and 40 percent of respondents overall.

Meanwhile, during the heat of the “Ground Zero mosque” [10]controversy, of which Newt was no small part in fueling — at one point on FOX News he compared the organizers for the new Islamic center to Nazis after World War II [11]— as many as 76 percent of Republicans polled said they would rather see a strip club built near the crater that once was the World Trade Center towers. [12] Newt, as always, saw an opportunity to cash in politically. Interestingly, in the end, he backed out of an invitation to mix it up in the streets [13]with the rabble he had roused.

Though he actually stopped short of calling Gingrich an Islamophobe, Gerson is still taking a risk with his loyal audience with this tack, but I think it’s fair to say he’s looking at the long game, for which Republican insiders, many albeit off-the-record, say Gingrich’s overall chances at winning are slim [14].

“Bigfoot dressed as a circus clown would have a better chance of beating President Obama than Newt Gingrich, a similarly farcical character,” quipped one Republican to National Journal nine days ago. Ouch.

Here’s a taste of what Gerson said  in The Washington Post:

…Gingrich insists: “Shariah in its natural form has principles and punishments totally abhorrent to the Western world.” With due respect to the speaker and his recent reading, what qualification does he have to identify Shariah’s “natural form”? In America, public officials respect the conscience of citizens while protecting them from violence. The proper role of government is to aggressively fight terrorism, not to engage in theological judgments.

The governing implications of Gingrich’s views are uncharted. Would President Gingrich reaffirm his belief that the most radical form of Islamic law is the most authentic? Would he tell American Muslims that to be good citizens they should renounce Shariah? Would he argue in his inaugural address, as he has argued before, that “America is experiencing an Islamist cultural-political offensive designed to undermine and destroy our civilization”? No strategy would be more likely to produce resentment, alienation and radicalism.

And how would President Gingrich deal with predominantly Muslim nations if the war against terrorism were transformed into a struggle against Shariah? Wouldn’t every Muslim friend and ally be discredited and undermined by having a relationship with the anti-Shariah superpower? Wouldn’t imams across the world feel compelled to condemn a Catholic president’s simplistic interpretation of Islamic theology? Wouldn’t Islamic radicals welcome the civilizational struggle that Gingrich offers? No strategy would be more likely to undermine the cause of America and the safety of its people.

Of course, none of this is possible. As president, Gingrich would be forced to repudiate his previous views out of strategic necessity. But those views demonstrate a disturbing tendency: the passionate embrace of shallow ideas.

 

*above image taken from ThyBlackMan.com

 

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#1 Comment By nathan On December 14, 2011 @ 8:59 am

At the New Jersey “freedom” concert last year that Sean hosted, Newt said that no more mosques should be built in this country until Saudi Arabia allows Christians to worship freely there. The crowd applauded loudly in response and Sean did not call him to task over that, not then not later. Since when are the First Amendment rights of law abiding residents of this country dependent on the actions of other countries? It could be be argued right then and there that Newt showed he was unfit for office since he clearly had no intention of honoring his oath to “uphold and defend” the Constitution, starting with the First Amendment.

Equally disturbing was the reaction of the crowd who so vigorously applauding the willingness to deny law abiding citizens their constitutional rights. Madison, totally familiar with the Salem witch trials, more than acquainted with Puritanistan where the good Puritans in Boston decades earlier had executed those from outside the area who dared preach anything different from what they considered acceptable, equally familiar with islam and the Inquisition, was attempting to ensure that the federal government would never interfere with free exercise of religion. Newt, THE SMARTEST MAN IN THE ROOM as we are reminded time and time again, must have been absent the day that part of the First Amendment was taught.

Newt shows time and time again that he isn’t really running for president, he would rather be king. As the SMARTEST MAN IN THE ROOM, and based on the statements from those who have worked with him, he knows no limits on himself and accepts none. We are told he has converted to Catholicism but we wonder sometimes based on his writings and his public utterances, if he ever goes to confession. In his total arrogance about himself, he may feel he has little or nothing to confess.

Increasingly as we find out more about him, about his philosophy, his actions past and present, it becomes increasingly obvious that in his own way he may be as dangerous from the republican side as the incumbent is from the democratic side. If he gets the nomination, voters may be given very little to choose between next year.

#2 Comment By Philip Giraldi On December 14, 2011 @ 8:59 am

Good article Kelley! I hate to say it, but it just might be that Gerson is finally seeing the light, that all the sectarian and race baiting that has vaulted Gingrich to the top would actually be very bad for the United States and its people. Truly, all the posturing by the Republicans (except for Paul) has already done us terrible damage as people around the world read the nonsense that is being spewed. The Gerson reversal of course comes at a time when a number of evangelicals are beginning to question the orthodoxy imposed by the likes of Falwell, Robinson, and Hagee. Perhaps it is coming time for a genuine debate on US foreign policy to emerge.

#3 Comment By probity On December 14, 2011 @ 10:00 am

“Newt said that no more mosques should be built in this country until Saudi Arabia allows Christians to worship freely there. ”

Non-sequitur anyone? A bit like saying “No more synagogues in the United States until Israel stops spying on us, selling our military technology to China and ripping off the American taxpayer for billions every year.”

#4 Comment By cfountain72 On December 14, 2011 @ 10:47 am

Hope y’all don’t mind if I cross-post this from something I added over at Eunomia about Der Gingrich…

In a semi-earnest effort to better understand why anyone who considers themselves a conservative would seriously consider Gingrich as a candidate, I wandered into the fevered swamps, errr, fount of conservative high thought that is RedState. And this is what I found coming from a Republidrone…

“I’m beginning to like the idea of a Newt Gingrich candidacy.”

“It is hard to dislike a guy who can filet his opponent with a smile and a side of fava beans and a nice chianti.”

[It’s not about ideas mind you; it’s about ‘being tough.’ A lot like their foreign policy.]

“1) Newt is an extraordinarily smart guy, 2) he knows that, 3) he won’t rest easy until you know that, and 4) he’s not a guy with natural leadership talent.”

[Sounds like Presidential material to me!]

“The man has the savant’s ability to tie together disparate threads and weave a convincing narrative and seemingly plausible ideas from those threads.”

[Emphasis on ‘seemingly plausible.’]

“I have a lot of doubts about Gingrich. He has a self destructive tendency. He has hubris by the truckload. He does not, in my estimation, build deep loyalty in his staff.”

[Sounds even more like Presidential material to me!]

But, after all that, this same person wrote…

“In the final analysis, I think Gingrich will become a street brawler in order to win and I think Romney thinks the position is owed to him. Against Barack Obama I know who wins and in the final analysis we are in this to win.”

[Again, not about ideas; it’s about ‘being a street brawler.’]

How someone can juggle so many disparate thoughts about someone in their mind at once is truly a sight to behold. So, once again, for those without any particular principles, and whose sole interest is ‘winning elections’ Newt is apparently your guy.

[15]

Peace be with you.

#5 Comment By TomB On December 14, 2011 @ 11:15 am

Apropos Mr. Gerson, Ms. Vlahos wrote:

“I think it’s fair to say he’s looking at the long game, for which Republican insiders, many albeit off-the-record, say Gingrich’s overall chances at winning are slim.”

Of course Mr. Gerson being a staunch Republican it’s more than fair to suspect this; in a sense it’s Gerson’s very mission to disfavor Republicans who can’t win.

But I think what’s further interesting is *why* Mr. Gerson believes this about Newt, and what it signifies.

Yes, that is, Gerson did talk about Newt’s “shallow ideas,” but then again Gerson’s former boss wasn’t exactly a Wittgenstein fan, and Mr. Romney’s relationship with any one idea is akin to a hummingbird’s relationship with any one flower bloom.

Thus in short I think Mr. Gerson’s real unease with Newt and his feel that Newt’s appeal is limited is precisely and unsurprisingly an aspect of what Mr. Gerson centrally talks about: The religious *openness* of Newt’s campaign against Islam.

Remember how Mr. Gerson’s boss Mr. Bush took such care to say that the problem wasn’t Islam at all? That it was a “religion of peace,” whatever the qualifications for that is?

Of course Republican professionals like Gerson know full well that they’re appealing to the Pastor Hagee class who have their fantasies about Muslims wading ashore in New Jersey with scimitars in hand. But I perceive those professionals are also just simply desperate to pretend that there is no religious component to their current crusade.

They know, that is, that campaigning on such overtly religious grounds is as stupid as it gets for national office. They know full well how the American people regard a Hagee or an Oral Roberts or etc.

And this, it further appears to me, is then additionally significant because it so clearly is at odds with what Israel and its most fervent partisans have been trying to do which is indeed make it about Islam generally. E.g., the looming threat of a new Caliphate and the Constitution being replaced by Sharia and all that crap…

But here I think with Gerson we see a pro not buying that this will sell. Making the hopefully correct judgment that this goes beyond a limit in American politics that the Bible-thumpers and Israel and its agents of influence are not going to be able to successfully go beyond. That try as they might to turn the U.S. totally, mindlessly and eternally in favor of Israel by alienating us against all arabs and persians on the basis of religion, it’s just not going to succeed. (Never mind its repulsiveness.)

Wouldn’t it be nice then if Gerson is right here? That despite all the other trashings of our values and ideas that the neo-cons and the Bible-thumpers have accomplished that this is at least one limit that isn’t going to be rubbished?

#6 Comment By Ken Hoop On December 14, 2011 @ 1:27 pm

It might not need elaborating upon, but let’s be visceral and say, it’s more apparent it won’t succeed than it was, say, circa 2001, because Iraqi and Afpak and other patriotic resistance fought stalwartly and to people like Gerson, in all probability to an unexpected degree, against the invader as we might hope to fight against invaders to our shores.

#7 Comment By James Canning On December 14, 2011 @ 5:06 pm

Ah, yes. An “axis of evil”. What an astoundingly jejeune concept. And foolish too, given that Iran had just helped the US overthrow the Taliban and was offering to help assess any threat posed by Iraq.

Thnaks, Michael Gerson. US taxpayers are out more than $1 trillion due to the utters stupid and unnecessary war you promoted for Iraq and Iran.

#8 Comment By James Canning On December 14, 2011 @ 5:08 pm

I hope Philip Giraldi is right. That an actual debate will develop.

#9 Comment By Mitchell Young On December 14, 2011 @ 10:17 pm

How about just “no more immigration from heavily Muslim countries”. That should keep the problem manageable. (And anyone with more than a cursory knowledge of the history of Islam will know, it is a problem)

#10 Comment By A.C. On December 15, 2011 @ 12:20 am

Excellent point, Mitchell. This piece and the rest of the commenters give off a little too strong a whiff of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ kinda vibe. The neocon excitement about the ground zero mosque was offensive precisely because the 1st amendment applies to all Americans of any religious faith; but that hardly leads to an implication that we should be unconcerned if our immigrants now pouring into this country (legally and illegally) are Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus,whatever, etc.,-all people are the same and sharia isn’t that serious an issue among the world’s Muslim population. Ah, NO. It’s one thing to assume many or most Muslims don’t subscribe to a fundamentally anti-American notion of sharia law/society. I assume that’s true, (I guess) but….so what? I don’t really care. Many of them in other countries DO subscribe to such dangerous nonsense, many leftists here do underestimate the potential danger of such nonsense out of a misplaced multiculti sympathy-for-third worldism philosophy, and it’s not my job to fix any of that. Stop letting them immigrate here is all I care about, at least until the Muslim world cleans itself out with the crazy barbaric ideas and modernizes a bit with respect for both virtue AND LIBERTY in life and man, which they sure haven’t done yet. Yes, we’d be “discriminating” against the “good” Muslims in our immigration policy. I really don’t care. It’d be worth it, in trying to preserve a sane and (mostly Christian) culture in America. Is there some rule in the Constitution that dictates otherwise? No. What it DOES say, is all Americans deserve religious liberty, free speech, etc., but that’s a lot harder to do with a culture that is no longer unified or coherent, as any TRUE conservative in the Western tradition would understand. Which neither a neocon like Gingrich or an appallingly misinformed Christian progressive like Gerson is.

#11 Comment By Dimitry Aleksandrovich On December 15, 2011 @ 2:40 am

With the exception of Ron Paul and maybe Huntsman the whole lot of Republican candidates is like trying to choose the least rotten of the apples. The most rotten of the bunch has to be Newt Gingrich, but I don’t like Romney any more than I like Gingrich. I won’t vote for either of them. I’d rather see Obama elected for four more years than to have another neoconservative corporate globalist Republican take the reigns in Washington DC. At this moment in time I think the most pressing issue is this imperialistic foreign policy (Pax Americana) exactly because it is our misadventures abroad that have made conditions ripe for terrorism against our citizens and its the terrorist threat that the United States government has effectively used (if nothing else) to distract the American public from the larger economic problems that we all have to face as Americans. I think you take away the foreign distractions and the fiscal imperial waste of Pax Americana and the American public at large and our government will have to address the real problems in America. Which include globalization, de-industrialization, de-unionization and the presence of an immigrant underclass that the corporate elites use to keep American wages low. You tackle those issues and you might be able to salvage this country before we fall off the cliff and into the abysss.

I’m going to vote for Ron Paul even if he doesn’t (and I truly believe he won’t) get the Republican nomination to run for the Presidency. I’m sure there’s many differences I have with him on economic policy on the home front but on foreign policy there is no better than Ron Paul and no matter what Anne Coulter has to say Ron Paul is the most traditionally conservative of all the current G.O.P. candidates.

#12 Comment By TomB On December 15, 2011 @ 3:13 am

Mitchell Young wrote:

“How about just ‘no more immigration from heavily Muslim countries’. That should keep the problem manageable.”

Err … what “problem”?

No doubt the European experience with immigration from “heavily Muslim countries” has been problematic. But as regards the U.S. experience my sense is that the arab and persian muslims who have come here have, in the overwhelming main, assimilated at least as enthusiastically, quickly and totally as just about any other ethno-religious group you might care to name, including those Christians from Europe who came long ago. And indeed I can think of a number of other ethno/religious groups who, in significant measure, and despite being here for a long time now, are still very uncomfortable with assimilation and who even still essentially regard another country as their first or “real” home.

#13 Comment By Matt On December 15, 2011 @ 9:26 am

TomB, it’s true that America’s Muslims aren’t nearly as antagonistic as Europe’s, but then that just might be due to the relative lack of them. 1% can’t cause nearly as much trouble as 10%, so let’s make sure to stay nearer 1%, yes?

#14 Comment By Kim Margosein On December 15, 2011 @ 10:41 am

{I’d rather see Obama elected for four more years than to have another neoconservative corporate globalist Republican take the reigns in Washington DC. }

Uh, I don’t see this as either/or.

#15 Comment By Mitchell Young On December 15, 2011 @ 12:56 pm

“Err … what “problem”?”

Err. Nidal Malik Hasan ring a bell? Does the First WTC attack — planned by a legal immigrant, I believe, ring a bell? In fact, even the 9/11 hijackers were aided by the fact that the San Diego based ‘team’ was able to blend in (and at least one worked illegally) with the huge Middle Eastern population in that city.